Reporting A Closed Business To Google Places – A Humorous Exercise In Futility

Yesterday afternoon, we threw caution to the wind, shut off our computers and closed up the office for the sake of getting into sunlight – a commodity that is both scant and precious in our drizzly northern California winters. Picture me picnicking on golden rocks above the shore, communing with elephant seals, coyotes and dear old Sol and you can imagine what a beneficent mood I was enjoying by day’s end. So much so, in fact, that I decided to embark on a little act of civic good in regards to a coastal town business that closed some months ago.

I had shopped at and reviewed this now-defunct business – a charming little gift shop called Bellwether in the town of Inverness, CA. I was sorry to see it close and happened to notice a sign in the window recently announcing that this lovely piece of real estate would soon be occupied by a new restaurant called ‘Blackbirds’.

“Hmm,” I said. “What will happen if no one tells Google that the gift shop has closed and then the restaurant owner tries to claim his listing at the same address?”

Remember, I was feeling friendly towards all the world and so, I fired up my Google Places account. My first intention was to edit my review of the business, pointing out that the shop had closed, as a kindness towards any tourists to the area who might be directed to the closed business before Google had a chance to attend to the situation. But – tsk, tsk – when I found Bellwether’s unclaimed Place Page, my review was nowhere to be seen:

Yes, where is my review, Google? Well, here it is, of course, in my public profile:

Clearly, we’ve already learned a lesson at this step: never waste time leaving a review via Google Places. Leave it at Yelp if you want Google to find it. A-hem.

Few people can be more familiar than I with the bugs that often cause legitimate Google-based reviews to pop in and out of Place Pages like a family of mischievous prairie dogs, and so I decided I would make the effort to edit the review, anyway, in case Google decided to pop it back into the Place Page tomorrow. Clicking the ‘edit’ link, I received this vague but rather unsettling communication:

Now, what – as an average user – am I supposed to understand from this message? That Google doesn’t support the business location? That they don’t support my review account? Perhaps I will misunderstand and think this message means that Google already knows the business has closed, eh? Brevity is the soul of wit – but I think Google takes it rather far in the matter of error messaging.

The upshot: I can’t edit my review and thus am sending a signal (albeit a mysteriously hidden one) to Google’s bots and human users that Bellwether is alive and well. The chances of the Yelp reviewer feeling beneficent and deleting their review of the closed business are probably not high. Most of us aren’t such goody-goodies that we like doing the work of Yellow Pages employees without pay, just for the darned fun of it! So we’ve got several ongoing signals that this place is open for business.

So, I took the only action left to me – reporting a problem. Hopefully, as the average user, I know this function exists, but I’m not feeling overly confident about this considering that the owner of Bellwether didn’t even know that their Place Page existed nor how to claim it. Luckily for me, the link was there as only yesterday, Mike Blumenthal reported that report a problem was missing. At any rate, here is a visual record of the fact that I’ve reported this problem on January 21, 2011 and have chosen the button that asks Google to email me when the issue is resolved:

I will absolutely return to this post when I receive that email to let you know what happened. It should be an interesting test of the report a problem link, and it will also be interesting to see what happens when the new restaurant opens in the old building. Will the restaurateur know about Places? Will he create and verify his Place Page? Will he be baffled to discover that his Place Page phone number is dialing through to a closed gift shop, or that user reviews are suggesting people come to his establishment to purchase postcards and stuffed animals rather than oysters on the half shell?

Do a search in the Google Places Help Forum for ‘business closed’ and you will see evidence of that which you already know: businesses close every day in the United States. What system and safeguards have Google put in Places to make sure that they know when a business closes so that a) they aren’t misdirecting the public and b) they are reducing the incidence of merging closed businesses with new tenants? Depending upon the good mood of a lady who has had a fine day at the beach is probably not a viable business practice, but then, I’ve never run a corporation with the power and reach of Google.

I’m still in a good mood – a jesting mood – and I can chuckle over the fact that I couldn’t find my review, couldn’t edit it when I did find it and had to have special knowledge even to know of the existence of the report a problem link. But I’m not sure this is a laughing matter for Google, considering the fact that they have set themselves up as experts at the handling of local business data. As a Local SEO, I’m a student of Google’s quirks, but how amusing does the average user find dealing with disappearing reviews, missing functions and general mess? Local Search is supposed to be a business matter, not a Hardy Boys Mystery. It’s up to Google to solve all of this, not me. Right?

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Flickr Photo Credit: Matthew High

10 Responses to “Reporting A Closed Business To Google Places – A Humorous Exercise In Futility”


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  2. on 22 Jan 2011 at 9:05 am Andrew Huskinson

    Hi,

    I would never advise marking a business as closed as it will persist and is hard to remove as Reporting a Problem is very slow(If it still exists, I think google have greyed it out as it is being used too much for the support staff to cope with, just like the ‘Flagged listings over 4 weeks’ report which was the only way to ‘email’ google.

    It is easier to leave a listing for a new business at the location to claim when they arrive.

    If you are a business moving to a new location you must have an active phone or mail presence for both locations at one point before you move as when you claim the old listing at the new location you have to verify the move at the old location, this is required to stop spammers nicking your listing. Many people fail to think about this and end up in a Catch 22 situation as you may no longer have access to the old phone no or mail delivery.

    When buying a location now you need to check what rubbish is out there for the location including reviews as google, once you have set up, will scrape and merge them over your hopefully Owner Verified Places entry. There must be a certain negative cash value for a possible duplicate listing you will have to spend time dealing with and even more so for negative reviews sitting there waiting for google to scrape just for you.

    There is a bug at the moment where negative reviews for another business are being scraped by google for the first business entry in a Insider result page which is a ‘Is this the same place?’ entry. So you need to check nearby businesses like yours on Insider pages for such possible links.

    Enjoy. Andrew.

  3. on 22 Jan 2011 at 1:30 pm earlpearl

    Miriam:

    Very well written/very accurate. I’ve tried to get businesses removed from the google places index for years. Businesses that have been closed for years/even over a decade. It virtually never occurs. Its also a complex process.

    I pity that new restaurant. Google Places Algo hell awaits it.

    Excellent write up

  4. on 22 Jan 2011 at 2:07 pm admin

    Hello Andrew,
    Thank you so much for stopping by. It’s always great to meet someone new who is into Local. Yes, the report a problem link is unlikely to work, but I’ve never done a test of it myself and thought it would be interesting to do so while writing the above post.

    You’ve brought up the exact reason why claiming an old business listing and changing it’s title to something new is so problematic – the load of reviews and citations that may then be associated with the new business. Google needs to provide a better solution than this so that business owners can start from scratch. The situation is not satisfactory.

    Thanks so much for taking the time to read this and share your good thoughts!
    Miriam

  5. on 22 Jan 2011 at 2:09 pm admin

    Hi Dave,
    No, I’m not holding my breath! That’s awful that you’ve tried to get old businesses deleted for years – really unacceptable. Well, we’ll see if I ever get that email from Google, but really, I’m hoping that this is one of the things Google will take into consideration amongst all of the changes they’ve been making. They are upgrading the report a problem feature sometime in the future, according to Mike. We’ll see! Thanks so much for stopping by!
    Miriam

  6. on 23 Jan 2011 at 12:32 pm earlpearl

    Miriam:

    I went back and checked on a record in the google places index that represents a business that has been shuttered for over a decade.

    Here is what I found today. (By the way, over a several year period I sent Google notifications the business was closed. I haven’t bothered to do so in at least two years.)

    This had to come via a competitor.

    The business is still identified in its original business name. It has no phone number attached to it.

    Meanwhile hit the places link and it takes you to a competitive business. That 2nd business now has 2 places records in the Google index representing the business, which is relatively close and nearby.

    Boon for the second business that gamed Google’s algo, which didn’t ever remove the closed business.

    Bingo. For all you aspiring spammers….there you have another way to spam google’s Places algos.

    Go for it!!!

  7. on 23 Jan 2011 at 2:17 pm admin

    Yikes, Dave, that’s quite a tale. I haven’t seen anything like that before, but there you go: another weakness bringing bad data and spam into the index. Disappointing. Businesses close every day. There needs to be a way to handle this – that’s obvious. I honestly can’t say that any of the other indexes are doing a better job than Google is in this matter of closed businesses, but it is Google’s prominence that makes the scenario of such high import. I really am wondering if the report a problem upgrade might take this into account. Let’s cross our fingers!


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  9. on 24 Jan 2011 at 7:04 pm David S Foreman

    hard to imagine this is news to anyone who has worked with Google Local/Places. Google routinely adds features, changes algo, changes listings, merges listings with natural search results, adds photos, shows some reviews but not others, removes flagged reviews and then republishes them, combines old listings with new ones, asks users to report problems but never responds, or reacts, has no customer support for Google Places, shows Yelp reviews, the removes Yelp reviews then adds Yelp reviews. Lets anonymous users leave libelous reviews with impunity… the list goes on and on. There is no one home at Google who cares about their products or their customers. Google is scary, they are a monopoly with no accountability, no support, no regulation. Business who happen to be hurt by Google’s multiple bugs and errors never receive an apology, never get to file a complaint, never have any recourse. This company is cold, indifferent and arrogant.

  10. on 24 Jan 2011 at 7:18 pm admin

    Welcome, David!
    You are quite right in saying that this isn’t news to anyone who works in the Local sphere. And, I hear what you’re saying in your comment. I have been reporting on issues like this here on the SEOigloo blog for some years now, as a sort of record of the trials and tribulations of working in Local, and particularly with Google’s properties.

    You are not alone in your frustrations over the lack of accountability Google has enjoyed since they first put one foot into the Local game. The scenario is almost unparalleled. I don’t know if you also read Mike Blumenthal’s blog, but there is an excellent discussion on this very topic of Google as Monopoly going on over there:

    http://blumenthals.com/blog/2011/01/22/tripadvisor-reviews-google-places-the-saga-continues/

    Both business owners and Google’s competitors would like to see some changes in how Google is conducting itself. Let’s hope we all do!

    Thanks for taking the time to comment here. Much appreciated.
    Miriam

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